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Press release

Leading Force for Animal Rights in US Supports Federal Bill to End Capture and Breeding of Whales for Public Display

The SWIMS Act is the first federal legislation the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) has helped develop as it begins to work with members of Congress

July 26, 2022–Washington, DC–The only organization in the US dedicated solely to securing legal rights for nonhuman animals today announced its support for a new bill that would end the future capture and breeding of whales for public display.

Introduced by Representatives Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), and Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) as well as Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the Strengthening Welfare in Marine Settings (SWIMS) Act is the first federal legislation the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) has helped develop.

“As part of our commitment to advocating in the halls of power for the freedom of autonomous nonhuman beings like whales, we’re honored to have been able to work with a longtime, passionate animal advocate like Representative Schiff in the lead-up to this bill’s introduction,” said Courtney Fern, the NhRP’s Director of Government Relations and Campaigns. “We look forward to working with Representative Schiff’s office, the SWIMS Act cosponsors, and the strong coalition of endorsing organizations to ensure its passage.”

The SWIMS Act would amend the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 to prohibit the taking, importation, or exportation of certain cetaceans for the purpose of public display unless the animal is being transported to a sanctuary setting or released to the wild. The bill further amends the Animal Welfare Act to prohibit any breeding of these species for future public display.

Known for its pioneering nonhuman animal rights litigation, especially the ongoing case of Happy the elephant in New York, the NhRP anticipates and welcomes becoming more involved with federal legislation that will “meaningfully protect nonhuman animals, now and far into the future,” said the NhRP’s founder and president Steven M. Wise.

The bill references scientific evidence of the cognitive, emotional, and social complexity of whales and recognizes the importance of prioritizing the autonomy of whales as individuals, which the NhRP applauds. Similar language underlies the NhRP’s legal arguments. The bill also underscores how whales suffer when held in captivity in tanks that cannot meet their complex physical, emotional, and social needs.

Earlier this month, the NhRP filed a motion for reargument in New York’s highest court following a 5-2 decision issued in its historic litigation seeking Happy the elephant’s right to liberty and release from the Bronx Zoo to an elephant sanctuary. The two dissents in Happy’s case harshly criticize the majority and have been lauded as a historic mark of progress in the global fight to secure fundamental legal rights for nonhuman animals. The NhRP filed its first case in California–on behalf of three elephants held in captivity at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo who are victims of the continuing importation of elephants to US zoos–in April.

“The science is clear that species such as whales and elephants need and want to live freely just as we do,” said Wise. “We believe it’s time for the law to catch up.”

Click here to read the full text of this legislation.

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